The recent fight that erupted over Michele Kelm-Helgen's pay and job duties began three months earlier with a 4:32 a.m. e-mail to her staff at the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.

Kelm-Helgen sent the message asking why her job as board chairwoman was not included in a routine gender pay equity report. She said the review should compare her $127,000 salary to others at the authority, which is overseeing construction of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

"I believe I have an equity issue," Kelm-Helgen said in a follow-up e-mail. "How do I appeal my pay?" she asked in another e-mail.

The e-mails highlight the behind-the-scenes maneuvering over Kelm-Helgen's pay and job duties months before the issue burst into the public eye at March and April authority meetings. E-mails obtained by the Star Tribune showed that a clash over the issue appeared inevitable.

"Can't say I didn't see this one coming," Bobbi Ellenberg, the stadium authority's director of business operations, said in an e-mail to Ted Mondale, the authority's $162,245-a-year executive director.

The conflict stemmed from Kelm-Helgen's role as authority board chairwoman, which was a part-time position when the authority was operating the now-demolished Metrodome. The post took on far greater significance as the authority began leading construction of the new $1.07 billion stadium, which is about halfway complete. Kelm-Helgen said her position should be considered full-time because of the demands of the job and the hours involved.

The e-mails and subsequent public feud showed that some legislators and even some board members were still not certain how the roles differed between Mondale and Kelm-Helgen.

A leading House Republican referred to Kelm-Helgen as a "pseudo executive director." John Griffith, a stadium authority board colleague and a former executive vice president at Target Corp, said he found the arrangement "bizarre" and inefficient.

Hours after Kelm-Helgen complained in January, Mondale told his staff to "redo the report" and list her as a full-time employee. But Mondale tried to distance himself from the brewing controversy. "I have not been involved," he told an aide in an e-mail in March.

Kelm-Helgen eventually was included in the report and the public disagreement over the issue appears to have subsided. Kelm-Helgen temporarily waived any attempt to seek more money.

A stadium authority spokeswoman said the final outcome simply acknowledged "the importance and value of the job" she does. Despite the flash of controversy, the stadium project — one of the most complex in state history — remains on time and on budget. A recent state audit gave top marks to the project, which is spending an average of $3 million a day.

Kelm-Helgen said in a statement that she was not using the pay equity report to justify a pay boost, but to recognize the consuming nature of her job.

"I spend hundreds of hours," she said. "I sign every contract. I approve every dollar that goes out."

Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Kelm-Helgen to chair the board after she served as one of his top deputies. He had been a crucial backer of the stadium project and has vigorously defended Kelm-Helgen, calling her "the number one reason" the project is within budget and set to open on time in 2016.

But the e-mails and other documents show that questions remain about the roles of Mondale and Kelm-Helgen.

Internal stadium authority documents said Kelm-Helgen's current role includes working with Mondale, helping to lead negotiations with the Vikings and serving "as the public voice for the stadium project." Mondale's job, according to documents, was to oversee "the construction of the new stadium and stadium related infrastructure," including project timelines, budget and funding requirements.

"It looks like Ted's position has more tangible responsibility than Michele's," consultant Sara Noah said in an e-mail in late January, more than two years after Kelm-Helgen became chair. "It is unusual to have a chair have 'hands on' organizational responsibility."

By 2014, the stadium authority was spending more than $330,000 annually in salaries and benefits for Mondale and Kelm-Helgen.

Duane Benson, a stadium authority board member and former Republican legislator, said Kelm-Helgen's role largely seemed to call for her to assist Mondale. He told her at a meeting in March that "when I look at your responsibilities it [says] 'work with executive director.' "

Kelm-Helgen said in e-mails that the stadium authority's consultants were not properly recognizing her role. In a late January e-mail, Kelm-Helgen said that another consultant's "initial position description and organization chart did not include me. Similar to this equity study, I had to ask to be included after the fact."

In a series of e-mails, Ellenberg, however, described Kelm-Helgen as persistent and "made me feel like she was not going to be pleased unless her position [was] equal to or superior" to Mondale's.

But Kelm-Helgen said she viewed herself as the across-the-table "counterpart" to Mark Wilf, the Vikings' president. Kelm-Helgen has been the lead negotiator with the Vikings, who have upped their share of the project from $477 million to about $566 million.

Kelm-Helgen said she was surprised by the criticism over her role.

She added, however, that "the pay equity issue definitely was the trigger" of the public criticism.

Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388